Clare Carter organised a ‘Ravens Pit’ evening in the field outside the Sticklebarn pub in Langdale with Dave Birkett giving a great insight into how tourists are lucky not to be shot or run over on motorbikes nowadays as that used to be the usual Cumbrian welcome. It was a good final night to the trip.
Having just read Pete Liveseys brilliant biography I’d like to recommend it. His routes in the Lakes were very futuristic when they were put up, a precursor to Pete Whillances and Dave Birketts; Footless Crow, Dry Grasp, Nagasaki Grooves, Bitter Oasis amongst many other greats which were and still are testpieces shutting down Lancashire’s finest. Loved Liveseys thoughts on Statement “What do you reckon about this route in Wales? 7 bolts in 70 feet?, how can that be E7?”Good effort to Mark Radtke and John Sheard for slotting it all together.
We set off in the afternoon from Sheffield and arrived in Dovedale with climbing gear and sleeping bags at the ready. Walking into the campsite shop we had difficulty deciding on wether to carry a bottle of wine or some beers. It was a tough decision and in the end we took both. We hiked up to Dove and after a warm up on the Flying fissure finish I send Ryan up Dusk Till Dawn. A flash pump kills him high up on the pillar and he says he’d wished he’d done Dynasty first. I mentioned I’d only done that one first because the description was wrong and I’d gone 3m higher than the traverse right and was too pumped to downclimb.
We leave the kit at the crag base and go up to the brilliant bivvy cave the Priests Hole where we played cards and cooked up a feast (of couscous and rice). The morning after the sun shone straight into the cave and there was a layer of mist in the valley bottom, I can see why Millican Dalton spent his summers living in his cave in Borrowdale.
Heading back to North Wales we both felt cooked and there was no opportunity to get Ryan on the Promontory Slab project and the Meltdown which had been part of the plan. Having pretty good gear but a ludicrously hard start I spoke to Dawes who said he’d done the moves on the middle bit but didn’t think the start would go. I think it’ll be V11ish starting 8m being considerably harder than Stone Temple Pilots or Diesel Power but on a steep slab! The only way I can see of anyone doing this is what me and pete used to take the piss out of Jack for, being a ‘**** on the shunt’. I suppose that was me on meltdown as well though.
Pembroke was fairly quiet, which is unusual for such a nice weekend. We headed straight to Huntsman’s Leap where Ryan gets going on the technical E5, Magazine people with myself and Mawson offering some heckling as Ry doesn’t feel himself and seems to climb left, right and centre all the way up, never finding the easiest path. I do Black Lagoon which with the some of the pegs missing felt quite committing and should be regarded as considerably harder than Souls, the classic, ok E6 of the Leap and bloody hell it’s got a tough move after the first thread. There is only Nothing to Fear I really want to do in there now. After another Leap E5 we finish on Trevallen on Smash the Bass (which has 2 extremely dangerous blocks right beneath the roof now-don’t do it, I started to lever it off but was worried of chopping my ropes) and the Hole.
We woke up groggily and set off with intent. We racked up at the summit of the impressive Cauldron Hole and walked down the ridge. A sea level traverse leads to 20 metres of commando style caving to eventually pop out before the Stone Bridge which gives Free Masonry its first pitch. Now, talking about 4 pitch sea arch E6s in the pub doesn’t quite give you a good impression of what they actually look like close up. On the apex of the Arch was a small cave at the end of the 3rd Pitch, the top of this had a 1m horizontal roof above it leading to severely overhanging ground and eventually to an extremely blank looking groove nr the top of the cliff. Although E6 isn’t that big a grade many people who have climbed routes graded E9/10 won’t have onsighted 10 routes of E6. Basically some of them can be really hard and because the more esoteric ones get done little or not at all when compared with many easier climbs the grade is more likely to be off the mark.
We both went quiet for a minute before some awfully soft, almost unconscious excuses started coming out of our mouths.
“What do you think?”
“We’re pretty tired”
“The start looks quite wet”
“The seas too rough to abseil into and besides which, how the **** do you swim with a rack on?”
We looked back at the caves, our still easy line of retreat.
Our excuses sickened me somewhat, although it may have been the Broadside. We decided to have a look as it was only the first 5 metres looked wet. The first pitch of the Stone Bridge, a 1980s Mick Fowler E5 6b provides a suitable start having a pumpy groove leading to airy moves round an arête and a good thread belay. Ryan leads through across more exciting terrain, a horizontal traverse leading to a 7m downclimb down a groove and a hanging belay right on the lip of the arch. The 3rd pitch involved wild climbing, jumping feet across the other side of grooves to get bridged and piling around a wild arête where you could climb it several different ways but all around 6a/b. Pulling into the cave is just the best belay. Its 5m deep and the birds who once inhabited it must have thought they had the best, least likely to be interrupted home until Crispin and George poked their heads in. In the guidebook it had mentioned that the climb was generally well protected. I now knew that it was a George/Crispin sandbag as the pitch before had been E6 and with slightly more small and fiddly gear than you’d like for the style of moves you do away from it.
Ryan arrived in the mega cave and we were both feeling a bit tired, the route finding had been tricky even to here which is what had helped stop Neil and Charlie on the final pitch. I won’t spoil the surprise of the finale but crux moves just above the cave lead to big moves on big holds to a still 6bish groove nr the top. I was totally blown away (as was Ryan).
I’ve done Conan the Librarian 3 times and think it’s an amazing climb but this was well beyond that for both brilliant climbing and ludicrous terrain it follows. The pictures just can’t do it justice. We went to Govans East and finished on Psyce n Gurn which although it gets the same grade is thankfully about E4 6b. The following day we were battered, Ryan did Yellow Pearls and I did Fabulous Fishing but both our elbows were out by this point. The afternoon was spent watching a remarkable effort by a friend of ours but I’m sworn to secrecy.
I look back on the trip and the £1500 in work I’d not taken. I can roughly attach a price to many of the climbs for what they are worth to me (economists and insurance companies love this kind of thing). Vlad, Iron Man, Black lagoon are each worth ~£200 being great routes I’ve thought about doing for years. The ascent of Free Masonry with Ryan though, that’s trickier, it was absolutely priceless and will keep me chuckling for years. Free Masonry.